Myanmar's ruling generals have never been accused of being particularly visionary or far-sighted. Similarly, they have generally put their faith in the jackboot rather than the rule of law when it comes to shoring up their rule. Yet among the 194 pages of the country's controversial new constitution, not a light read, is one highly intriguing paragraph. Tucked away in the chapter headed 'Transitory Provisions' is a reference that in effect protects them from any investigations or inquiries once civilian rule is in place, in theory after the elections planned for some time next year. Item 445 states: 'No proceeding shall be instituted against [previous ruling military bodies] or any member thereof or any member of the government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties.' The constitution received widespread criticism for further enshrining the generals' power, even if it allows them to retreat into the background. It gives the military a quarter of parliamentary seats and veto power, including of any constitutional amendments. That other provisions appeared written specifically to stop democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi ever standing for election - the fact that her late husband was British would discount her - raised further questions about the real intention of the charter. Yet clearly Item 445 shows the generals are prepared if things go horribly wrong for the junta and they lose control once elections are held. The charter can be seen as a bid for legitimacy, yet they seem to know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Given their grip on power, the generals may be paranoid, but it could be said that they have a lot to be paranoid about. Their long record as human rights abusers is up there with the worst, with a few local twists. Forced-labour policies, widespread jailing and torture of political opponents, and summary executions all feature. Then there are the military crackdowns on Myanmar's restive ethnic minorities, many of whom live in isolated border areas. Amnesty International has said the forced relocation of villages, burning of crops and smashing of homes has happened on such a scale it could be viewed legally as a crime against humanity. Reports have frequently surfaced of the targeted killing of civilians and campaigns of gang rape by soldiers. 'The regime is leaving nothing, absolutely nothing, to chance,' an independent Myanmese journalist said. 'With some clever lawyers, they have attempted to exonerate themselves for all time with the stroke of pen. It is just one more sign of why they wanted to push this constitution through. 'It is funny ... we have never seen them as legally minded, yet we can see they are when it comes to their own protection.' The charter was a creature of the strange aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, the giant storm that brought devastation to much of the Irrawaddy Delta and Yangon. In the early days after the storm, the regime refused international help, blocking visas for aid workers linked to established organisations already within the country. Junta chief Senior General Than Shwe even refused to answer the phone when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon tried to call - an act unprecedented in international diplomacy. Yet a planned national referendum on the new constitution could not be delayed. A week after the storm, when millions still lacked food, medicine and shelter, the poll went ahead. It passed, with the junta claiming the support of more than 92 per cent of the population. Huddled away in the gilded cage of their secretive jungle capital, Naypyidaw, junta chiefs seem to know that no regime, however repressive, lasts forever. And in their own case, there is likely to be little public sympathy when that end does come.